From Sweatshops to Head Designer — Only in L.A.In the City of Angels, "The sky's the limit."
The daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, fashion designer Johana Hernandez is proof positive that the American dream is alive and well in Los Angeles. When her parents first arrived from El Salvador, they found jobs in downtown L.A. garment district sweatshops, and a young Hernandez watched carefully as her parents stitched jeans for high-end brands on an assembly line. "I started in sweatshops learning from my parents," she says, "and now I'm the head designer traveling the world for big corporate companies."
At just 19, she landed her first gig designing for hip-label denim company Bebina Jeans. The attention she garnered for her unique designs led to a string of successes working for mass-market celebrity lines, including Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers for Walmart.
Now, at 25, in addition to designing for cult denim purveyor SEVEN7 Jeans, she's dressing celebrities for the red carpet with the launch of her personal couture line, Glaudi. Her rocker-inspired gowns have been seen on the likes of pop star Paulina Rubio at the Latin Grammys to much media fanfare. "This one dress gets more attention than the shirt that I designed for 5 million people!" Hernandez says.
She credits Los Angeles with nurturing her signature style. Like the city itself, where jeans and a T-shirt can be as chic as an evening gown, "it's very relaxed with glamour." Even when she's dressed casual, she says, "I'm a high heels girl." Hernandez especially likes picking up unique pieces from other local designers at L.A. Style House, a downtown boutique that carries her collection. She also enjoys getting glammed up at salon-cum-lounge Neihulé, where those stopping in for a blow-dry are pampered with food, wine and a spin at the iPad bar.
But amid all the glamour, Hernandez is keenly aware that her successes have been exceptional and that throughout Latin America there are youths who have few such opportunities. In fact, she started Glaudi to benefit her nonprofit organization, Latinos con Corazon, which raises money for underprivileged children in Latin American countries through local fashion show events. "I just wanted to do something that really goes to my heart," she says.
Within the diversity of Los Angeles, she appreciates the opportunity to connect with her Latin American roots. She savors family trips to La Casita de Don Carlos, which serves authentic Salvadoran pupusas. Her boyfriend, who is Mexican-American, has introduced her to the charms of mariachi music and camarones a la diabla at La Fonda.
But Hernandez is never more at home than when she can relax on a rooftop. "I feel like I'm always in four walls, so I like open space," she says. One of her favorite such places is the downtown French bistro Perch, nestled amid skyscrapers. It's an appropriate roost for someone whose creative and charitable ambitions extend to the stratosphere: She's set her sights on designing for Paris Fashion Week and building a school in her parents' hometown in El Salvador. In the City of Angels, she says, "the sky's the limit."
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